Moving beyond ‘Eye Contact’

Eye Contact – What do we mean by this term and is it ever appropriate to work on?

The term ‘eye contact’ is often referred to as an important skill that children must acquire on their way to becoming social participants in interactions.

‘Demonstrates appropriate eye contact’ often appears on child developmental checklists.

A lack of ‘eye contact’ has been also sometimes been associated with a range of developmental difficulties and differences including Autism Spectrum Disorder.

So what do we mean by the term ‘Eye Contact’ and what does ‘Demonstrating appropriate eye contact’ look like?

Let’s pause for a moment to consider how we use our eyes to help make sense of social situations.

We look at our conversational partner’s face to gauge information about their emotions, topic of interest and for hints of when it might be our turn to contribute to the conversation.

Much can be learned from noticing a partners’ facial expressions and, by following our partner’s eye gaze, we might better understand and tune into what they want to share with us.

Often our eye gaze will shift from our conversational partner, to an item of joint interest and back to our partner again.

Many of us feel slightly comfortable when staring intently into our conversational partner’s eyes for any length of time and the experience for our conversational partner when we do so can be equally awkward!

Eye Contact should perhaps be re-phrased to mean ‘thinking with your eyes’!

Here are a few reasons why:

 

Instead of teaching our children to ‘look at us when we or they speak’, we might try encouraging our children to notice what is visually meaningful or of significance to the particular joint situation we find ourselves in.

We can encourage our children to look more often and tune into what is important.

We can also provide our children with a warning signal that it will very soon be time to ‘tune in’ to a conversational partner.  Saying your child’s name to seek their attention is a good way to do so and, even more so, if you are within your child’s visual field when you state their name.

Say your child’s name.

WAIT for your child to look in your direction.

THEN provide the instruction, make the comment or start the conversation.

Encouraging your child to notice what is visually important in the environment will also help to prompt your child to understand what is expected of him or her. For example, instead of saying “Oh! You are sitting on the puzzle pieces.  Move away so we can finish the puzzle”….try…. “Oh…your body is on top of the pieces” and WAIT for your child to LOOK and then use this new visual information to solve the problem independently.

This tiny little tweak in how we interact with our children helps them to better understand what they see and to use this information to develop social, conversational and behavioural skills.

My child really does struggle to direct any eye contact towards me!

Some children really do find any eye contact (even very fleeting eye contact) emotionally dysregulating.

It is important […]

2024-04-28T07:33:41+00:00

Screen Time and Toddlers

The Average Australian Toddler spends 2-3 hours engaging in screen time each day

Did anyone see this rather startling headline in last week’s news bulletins?

At the outset it certainly makes you sit up and take notice.

The results of a long term, large scale study of Australian toddlers linked screen time to toddlers being exposed to 194 fewer conversations or missing out on hearing more than 1000 words spoken by adults each day.

The study then went on to say that, for every extra minute of screen time, our 3 year olds were hearing 7 fewer words and speaking 5 fewer words.

Yes, this finding needs to be acknowledged and, most definitely, addressed if we are to provide our children with the best start in life but let’s not use this as evidence to prove ‘all screen time is damaging’ or to make carers and parents feel guilty for allowing or even encouraging their young children to engage with screens.

Let’s use this information in the following ways:

Create Language Rich Environments for our Children

We know that being exposed to a language rich environment is critical in supporting the development of language in the early years.  Early language development predicts outcomes for children in later life including academic, social and emotional outcomes.

Screens are here to stay so, instead of demonising them, let’s accept that fact and really make efforts to engage our children in language opportunities that boost vocabulary development, engagement in back and forth interactions and play.  We can do this at times where screens are out of sight and out of mind.

The simple act of adults also putting away their screens (phones, laptops and televisions) and consciously following the lead of their child’s interests, getting down to their child’s level and playing will also work wonders in setting children on a path of language development.

Make conversation, story time and play with your child a daily habit and think about how you model the use of screens in your own life! Language rich environments and screens can live harmoniously side by side but we need to make a concerted effort for that to happen.

Remember that no programme, App or youtube channel has as much value when it comes to language development as YOU!

Children rely on the adults in their lives to provide opportunities for back and forth interactions, communication of new words and thoughts that match a child’s interests and children look to use for cues about what new words might mean.

There is no digital programme out there that can tune into your child’s interests as well as you nor is there an App that can provide true interactive experiences with another human in that way that you can!

Our young children are sponges!

Children don’t have ‘off’ waking hours when it comes to their potential to learn.  They are constantly absorbing new words and meanings as long as they are awake. Engage your child in conversation to stimulate this learning during your everyday routines, play and during car trips.  This […]

2024-03-20T06:28:12+00:00

Settling into a New School Year

Transitions can be tricky for many of us.  Starting a new school year can be a particularly challenging time for many children.

After a lovely summer holiday in Australia, children are now well and truly into Term 1.  Most have settled in well but several may still be struggling to make a successful transition.  Here are few ideas for you to consider if this sounds like your child, a child you care for or perhaps a child in your classroom.

Acknowledge your child’s emotions

We all appreciate being heard and understood.  It is really important that you firstly accept and acknowledge your child’s emotions and try to see the challenge of starting or going back to school through your child’s eyes.

Label these emotions…give the emotions words to start helping your child to process what they are feeling.

For children who are very young or who have challenges such as Autism or Language Disorders, you might also need to ‘SHOW’ your child the emotion using your facial expressions and tone of voice very clearly.

Pausing to reflect and acknowledge what our child is feeling offers far more support than expecting our child to ‘get over it!’  Yes, school is a few weeks in now but transitions can take weeks and sometimes even months for some children.  Don’t try to rush them through.  Instead, support your child where he or she is at by providing an understanding and accepting response.

Create Positive Memories

Children learn when they are regulated, comfortable and secure.  If your child is working with an Occupational Therapist, encourage your child’s teacher to work closely with you and the OT to develop a regulation plan to support your child especially during those tricky transition periods to and from school each day.  If something has worked in the past, don’t hesitate to bring back that specific strategy and use it again. We often need to revisit strategies from time to time that we thought we would no longer need.

Help your child’s teacher to understand and read your child’s specific signs of dysregulation and work together to create a plan to support your child.

Ensure your child gets plenty of physical movement, fun and ‘down time’ when at home if at all possible over the next few weeks to allow their body systems to adjust to the new daily routine and expectations.  It is also important for these moments to be infused throughout the school day if at all possible.

Remember that many of our children learn and understand best when they ‘see’ as well as ‘hear’ what it is you have to say.  Instead of relying upon verbally explaining changes, routines and expectations only using spoken words; maybe use social stories with lots of photos and visual schedules to assist your child to understand and then eventually feel more relaxed about.

Finally, all of our children benefit from the adults in their lives being reliable and trusting.  When a child trusts you, they feel safe and you can’t regulate your emotions unless you have […]

2024-02-12T03:10:32+00:00

The importance of ‘Hello’

Lessons Learned from Abroad

I have recently returned from the trip of a life time; a long awaited trip to France to watch the Rugby World Cup with my husband and tour the south of France.  It is the first time we have travelled abroad since having children many years ago so was very special for us both.  I took quite some time off blogging whilst I was away and just soaked up as much as I could from being immersed in a different culture and language.

Not being at all proficient in the French language, I was interested to see first hand how powerful the simple act of saying ‘Hello’ was.

“Bonjour!” with a smile was the most important word for us to learn and use when travelling in France.  I am guessing that it may be the most important communication starter in any language….

The simple act of being able to greet someone with a smile and word (be that verbal or non verbal) helps to offer warmth, positive connection and a start to any social interaction.  We started with a greeting when interacting with  Uber drivers, those in cafes and restaurants who were pouring our coffee or serving us our pastries and with those who passed us by on the street or at the various tourist locations we visited

  1. Do we focus on teaching the social communication act of greetings with our children? 

I am sure we do but I will be doing so now with far more gusto and intention than previously.

Why?

We managed to ‘get by’ with ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Merci’ as our only French words.  These words started and ended many of our social interactions successfully and in a positive, warm manner.

Learning these simple, positive communication rituals early teaches children how to start a conversation with another human in an appropriate manner.  Often when a child moves past ‘Hello’ , they start to feel more confident to engage.  It certainly breaks down that first hurdle which is so important for our hesitant and less able communicators.

Saying ‘hello’ doesn’t have to be verbal.  It can be communicated with eyes, hands (a wave) or even your body.  If we positively interpret a child’s attempts to greet us in whichever way they are able to, we will encourage this behaviour to grow.

For those children who find that saying ‘hello’ feels awkward or uncomfortable, we can continue to model this when they are with us.  Resist the urge to pressure your children to say ‘hello’ as we want them to associate greetings with positive emotions; not with angst or fear.

  1. How can I teach ‘hello’?

You can start by making it your intention to explicitly model saying ‘hello’ to others when your child is in your presence.  Use an animated voice and happy smiling face as you do so that your child is more likely to notice and learn from your modelling.

You can prompt your child to say ‘hello’ to others but start with those communication partners that your child […]

2023-10-29T05:26:31+00:00

Roaring Fun: Extending Dinosaur Playtimes

Does your child love playing with toy Dinosaurs but the play doesn’t seem to be moving beyond ‘roar’?

The benefits of imaginative play and the clear links between this type of play and early language development are well documented.  So many of our children love playing with toy animals and dinosaurs seem to be a crowd favourite in our clinics at the moment.

Imaginative play goes far beyond simply portraying dinosaurs as fierce creatures in battle yet many of our children seem to get ‘stuck’ on this type of play when playing with these toy creatures.

By modelling some new ways of playing with dinosaurs, we can encourage our children to  develop their play skills, learn important emotional regulation skills, interact cooperatively with their playmates and develop language abilities.

Here are some alternative ideas that you may not have yet considered that promote cooperative play, empathy, and creative problem-solving.  If your child continues to prefer the theme of rough, fierce play with dinosaurs…..don’t despair.  We have ideas for you to use that will involve both following your child’s lead and extending his or her language skills as you do!

Dino Family time

Encourage your child to re-enact familiar routines with their toy dinosaurs.  Instead of requesting that your child follow your spoken instructions, you are likely to have far more success if you model this type of play alongside your child with your own dinosaur.  Try involving your dinosaur in taking a bath, going for a walk,  dancing to music, getting dressed with some dolls clothes, getting ready for bed, eating a meal, having a tea party etc…  The possibilities are endless and help your child to consolidate their comprehension of the steps involved in the routines that are already part of their everyday activities.

Dinosaur Superheroes

Why not combine two different types of ‘popular’ play for young children by having dinosaurs become stuck (in a box, in a muddy bog, at the top of a tree, on a rooftop, in a deep valley)… Each of these imaginary places can be easily created with a bit of imagination.  The deep valley can involve a dinosaur being stuck in the crevices of a large bean bag.  The muddy bog might be plush carpet and the top of a tree might be your bench top!  Have fun calling out out for help and labelling emotions such as feeling brave, worried, frightened, scared, worried, relieved, grateful. It is never to early to start exposing your child to these words that label our emotions.  Problem solving skills can also be explored when you both work out how the dinosaur is to be rescued.

Family Adventures

Once your child has noticed and is becoming interested in these new ways of playing with the dinosaurs, you can assign different family roles to different dinosaurs.  The family of dinosaurs might go to the beach, play at the park, get on a bus, do the shopping etc…  Have fun using different props to extend your play.  Remember to keep following your child’s lead.  […]

2023-07-31T21:02:32+00:00

‘Comfortable’ is not always best for us….or our children!

Most of us like operating within our comfort zone.

The comfort zone is a cozy space where we feel safe and familiar. While it provides a sense of security, staying within its confines is not necessarily good for us.  In the short term it can give us that dopamine hit that feels lovely but it doesn’t always serve our long term goals well to always choose what is comfortable.

This is true in many areas of our life.

Choosing the most comfortable, cushioned running shoes doesn’t tend to result in strong feet that can walk along a beach easily when you are older.

Choosing to lie on the lounge to watch TV of an evening is rarely as good for us as going to bed that little bit earlier.

We are told that choosing to sit rather than stand doesn’t support our long term health and posture.

Choosing the less healthy food options can feel great in the moment but not so great if we do this for a lifetime.

Both children and adults can fall into this trap; fearing change and avoiding new experiences.  No one likes to be uncomfortable so we naturally tend to avoid putting ourselves into these situations.

As parents, we rarely want to see our children experience tricky emotions when out of their comfort zone as we ourselves know how challenging this can be.  It is essential however that we recognise that true growth and learning occurs when we stretch ourselves beyond the boundaries of our comfort zone.  This is true not only for us but for our children.

For children who need to learn new speech and language skills, the capacity to move beyond their comfort zone is often required.  When working with younger children, we can often weave facilitation of their development into play and everyday routines.  Children may not even realise that this is ‘intervention’ when adults do this well.  However, as children get that little bit older and move into their preschool years, speech therapy often requires repetitive practice and speech drills in order to change existing speech patterns and encourage new skills to develop.

Learning new speech sounds can be difficult for children as can learning new concepts at school or learning to read and spell.  It can feel uncomfortable when learning new skills.  This inevitably requires us to support our children to stretch beyond their comfort zones.

We all react differently when we feel uncomfortable.  If children can be supported to process rather than avoid these emotions then we are much more likely to see steady progress towards achieving therapy goals as well as the development of other important skills that will set your child up for a lifetime.

The Power of Taking Risks

Trying to do something that feels difficult involves taking a risk.  A risk that many children find difficult to take is that of risking failure but needing to try multiple times before achieving a goal helps children to learn resilience and problem-solving abilities  Developing the confidence to face challenges head-on is a skill that will certainly […]

2023-07-23T23:15:48+00:00

When on a WAITING LIST for Speech Pathology….What you can do!

Have you been told that the WAITING TIME for your child to see a Speech Pathologist is lengthy?

Unfortunately the demand for Speech Pathology services continues to far exceed the demand in many parts of Australia.  You are not alone.

All over this country there are children of all ages waiting far too long for the support they need to develop speech, language and communication skills.

We all know that Early Identification and Early Intervention are both crucial if we are to help our children reach their potential.

So

….you can either throw your hands in the air and sit and wait

Or

….think outside the square and choose to be proactive in this waiting phase

This problem requires a few creative solutions but there is no reason why your child, a child you educate or care for cannot access support immediately.

Here are some ideas that you may have not yet considered:

Speech Pathologists are not the only professionals who can help your child!

Yes, that’s correct.  Everyone has a role in nurturing the speech, language and communication skills of children.

Start by building your own knowledge and skills around all things child communication by keeping an eye out on our Facebook and Instagram social media channels.

Take a deep dive into our WEBSITE where we share checklists, access to free texts as well as a weekly Chatterbox blog covering a wide range of topics.

Many speech pathology and allied health practices such as ours are employing and training non- Speech Pathologists with backgrounds in early childhood, education or disability to become Speech Pathology Therapy Assistants.  As Therapy Assistants come from a wide variety of backgrounds, it can often be easier to recruit them than qualified Speech Pathologists.  Therapy Assistants can deliver programmes to clients that are deemed suitable for such a service with close Speech Pathology supervision.

If your child or a child you educate is waiting for Speech Pathology, it may be worth asking

‘Does your practice provide a Therapy Assistant service?’.

If so, this might be an option whilst your child is waiting for a Speech Pathologist!

Many young children under the age of 7 who are eligible for NDIS funding have  Key Workers who are early childhood intervention specialists.  If your child has a Key Worker but is still waiting for a Speech Pathologist, encourage your Key Worker to Contact Us us to discuss the possibility of some

Face to Face or Zoom Coaching

to build valuable knowledge, skills and confidence to support your child’s speech, language and communication skills during this interim period.

We now provide a range of tailored Professional Development packages to meet the needs of Parent Groups, Key Workers, Early Childhood Educators and Disability Support Workers.

We just love it when we get contacted to discuss collaborating to help more children.

Consider Tele-Practice

Whilst most families prefer Face-to-Face Speech Pathology services, there are several who decide to embrace  Tele-Practice once they have given it a try.

Tele-Practice can provides a great start whilst children are waiting for a Face to Face Speech Pathology appointment.  At Learn2Communicate as well as in many […]

2023-07-15T06:26:00+00:00

Speech Ready: The skills our preschoolers need to transition to school

It’s that time of year again…when our preschool aged children will soon attend Kindergarten orientation programmes and transition to school!

Is your child, a child you care for, or a child you educate ready for school?

Do you have concerns or confusion about what skills are important to nurture in order to give your child the best chance of a successful start to his or her schooling?

Look no further. When it comes to speech, language and communication skills we have you covered.

As parents and early childhood educators, we play a crucial role in preparing our children for the exciting transition to kindergarten.  Among the many essential skills required for this milestone, strong speech, language, and communication abilities are particularly vital. In this blog, we will explore eight key areas that will help children thrive as they embark on their kindergarten journey.

Here are our handpicked top Kindy Readiness Skills and ways that you can support your child, a child you care for or a child you educate develop them over the next 6 months!

Get your free School Readiness speech and language checklist here

Learn2Communicate School Ready!

Initiate and Sustain Conversations

Encouraging children to start conversations with others and to keep these going back and forth over multiple turns  fosters social interactions and builds their confidence in expressing their thoughts and ideas. Be sure to give your child many opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations with you with opportunities for active listening and turn taking.

Answer a Range of Open Ended WH – Questions

Incorporate open ended WH-Questions into your daily conversations, asking your child about their day, their favourite activities, or their interests.  Questions starting with ‘what’ ‘where’ ‘who’ ‘when’ ‘where’ ‘how ‘ and ‘why’ will help conversations to keep flowing with your child and will encourage your child’s understanding and recall to develop.

You can also develop these skills when sharing story books together.  It is important to mix these questions naturally amongst other types of language such as comments and statements so that your child doesn’t feel pressured or ‘tested’.  Keep it fun and playful.

These skills are important for children when starting school to respond to questions from their teacher and during activities such as ‘show and tell’ when other children may ask questions or seek clarification about your child’s news item.

Understand and Follow Spoken Instructions

This is a big one!  One of the most important and obvious differences between home, early childhood settings and a Kindergarten classroom is that your child will now be in a large group of children with 1 teachers.  Your child will need to far more listening than ever before. He or she will need to tune in, listen to, understand and follow many spoken instructions throughout the day.  You can help you child by providing your child will opportunities at home to follow simple instructions.  They can gradually increase in complexity as your child becomes more adept.  Break the instructions down into smaller steps to make them more manageable and use visual cues such as gestures […]

2023-07-08T04:24:02+00:00

The Power of Playful Imitation

Imitation is how young children learn many skills; including how to communicate

What a child is not talking, there is a fair chance that he or she is not yet imitating

Imitation is an important skill to teach a late talking toddler.

Imitation is a foundational skill that serves as a precursor to language development in toddlers. We can help our children to develop speech, language and communication skills via engaging in playful imitation.  In this week’s blogpost we will delve into the significance of imitation as a vital precursor skill for language development in toddlers. By understanding the link between imitation and language, you can facilitate the development of your child’s language skills in a fun, playful way.

The Skill of Imitation Develops in Stages

First young children will start to imitate your actions upon objects. For example, your child might imitate you patting a dog, drinking from a cup, washing hands, popping bubbles, building a tower with blocks or pushing buttons on a musical toy.

Next young children will start to imitate actions and gestures that they see demonstrated. This is when children start enjoying simple songs that involve actions.

Soon after, children may start to imitate your simple vocalisations and sounds that they hear in the environment such as trucks, sirens and animal sounds.

Finally, children start to imitate words and short phrases.

Tips to help your child learn to imitate gestures by 12 months

If your child is imitating actions with objects and playing appropriately with a variety of toys, it is time to make yourself the toy and encourage your child to imitate your gestures.

Start with some simple body actions and gestures in games like ‘Give me Five’ ‘Peekaboo’ ‘Round and Round the Garden’, clapping, waving hi/bye and banging on a table with your hands.

Some simple gross motor actions like jumping, marching and dancing to music are other fun ideas to help your child imitate actions during play.

Once your child can imitate these types of simple actions, you can teach some simple natural gestures or key word signs to help your child communicate.

Some Helpful Natural Gestures and Key Word Signs to teach young children

Only teach signs when your child is imitating earlier gestures.  Model  / Demonstrate these signs 3-5 times in natural situations and play and then look expectantly at your child…giving him or her time to attempt to imitate.  Here are some good signs to start with:

up

more

eat

drink

all done

mine

help

open

Imitation can help your child to learn:

How to engage in back and forth reciprocal conversation

How to use verbal and nonverbal communication for a range of social purposes with others

Vocabulary

How to combine words using grammar and syntax to build combinations of words in phrases and short sentences

Speech Sounds

Imitation is a fundamental precursor skill for language development in toddlers.

By incorporating opportunities for playful imitation into your interactions and activities, parents and carers can create a rich learning environment that supports their child’s speech, language and communication skills to grow.

Through imitation, toddlers acquire vocabulary, grasp sentence structure, develop conversational skills, […]

2023-06-17T06:10:26+00:00

When Should I Seek Help for my Toddler’s Talking?

Have some questions or concerns about your Toddler’s Talking?  Not sure if he or she is on track?

We often have concerned carers contacting us with questions about their little ones’ development.  It can be an unsettling feeling to hear and see other little toddlers in your mother’s group meetings who are talking in sentences whilst your child is yet to say much at all.

When should I seek some Speech Pathology support?

What can I do if my child is late to talk?

Why is my child later to talk than others his or her age?

Should I be worried?

Does this mean that my child may be on the Autism Spectrum?

The list of questions goes on and on…let us answer a few for you now.

Speech and Language Delays are very common among children with Autism but also very common amount children without Autism

Autism seems to be in the back of many carers’ minds when they contact us with concerns about their child’s development so let’s address this early.

The cause of your child’s delay in speech, language and/or communication may be Autism or another underlying diagnosis such as Intellectual Disability.

Far more common, however, are children who are late to talk because of fluctuating hearing loss caused by Otitus Media (Glue Ear).  If you have any concerns regarding the development of your child’s communication skills, get a hearing test.  https://learn2communicate.com.au/tag/eustachian-tubes/

Irrespective of the cause of your child’s delay in speech, language or communication it is best to intervene early in order to get the best outcome for your child.  Early Intervention is super important.

So often we don’t know why a child is late to talk.  What is perhaps more important is knowing when to seek support and where to go to get the right advice.

When to Contact a Speech Pathologist

There is so much available now available via our keyboards and phones that it can get pretty overwhelming and difficult to sort fact from fiction.  Our simple checklists for parents are a great place to start https://learn2communicate.com.au/parents/

If you are wanting more detail, particularly for very young children, the HANEN website has some very good information for parents available here https://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/When-You-Are-Concerned/Warning-Signs.aspx

A few other red flags for when to contact a Speech Pathologist include:

Not combining words into short phrases by 2 years of age

Still difficult for others to understand by 3 years of age

Limited interest in responding to others and communicating

Be concerned but not alarmed if your child is late to talk or is showing signs of having a delay in their communication skills development.

Most speech, language and communication delays respond very well to early support and intervention.

Educate yourself about what ‘development’ looks like at different ages and stages and what the red flags are.

Contact us or your local Speech Pathologist if you have concerns.

There is plenty you can do to help your child and it sure beats sitting at home worrying about it!

2023-06-12T08:10:58+00:00

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